Ralph Johnson

Guilford, Connecticut, United States

Natural Food Store Owner, Organic Food Store Owner

The most exciting aspect of being the owner of four healthy food stores is working with my employees to serve our customers. As a natural food store, we provide a healthy environment for both customers and employees and strive to make the world a better place. It is a wonderful feeling when employees and customers tell you how much you have changed their lives.

FoodWorks is a natural food store with four locations in Connecticut. We currently have 45 full- and part-time employees and average more than 300 customers a day. We pride ourselves on working with small vendors who are trying to create new products by giving them a format to sell their products outside of the large corporate stores. In my wildest dreams I never thought I would have four stores and be as successful as we are.

Here’s a bit of what we can cover in our PivotPlanet session(s):
• Finding the right location, using data from information from current US census, state census, and local census. Getting info from Chamber of Commerce and other ways of getting information concerning the area to start a new business.
• Exploring if there is are any tax credit, loans or grants. Exploring existent businesses that either are competition or related business.
• Locating the right retail space, again location, traffic, space, parking, signage, and other factors involved in finding the right location for the business. Working on a budget for the product, cost of construction, rent, inventory, labor and time opening.
• Dealing with landlord, leases, renovations, and construction. Working with town officials concerning zoning, health department, building departments. Finding and hiring a contractor, and other professionals to help with build out for the space.
• Working with a design person, architect, artist, or visiting other similar types of businesses for ideas with layout design.
Working with broker, sales people, on deals, discounts, inventory, terms of payment, etc.
• Interviewing, hiring, training and finding the right people to help grow your business.


I worked with my dad for many years in the home improvement field before opening a hamburger restaurant. I changed careers again when I started a natural foods home delivery service in New York City. I also started a health magazine for African Americans, which resulted in being invited to speak at colleges and on radio shows and travel to other cities to discuss my work. I went on to work for a natural food store and worked my way up to manager before founding FoodWorks in 1981.

I truly found my home when I went to work in the natural food business. While working with my father, I didn't feel like I was helping people. I knew I wanted to do something that would improve the world and not just make money.

Considering my varied career path, I have had the opportunity to learn many things related to running a business: sales, operations, advertising, customer services, employee hiring and training, legal matters, leasing retail spaces, working with landlords...the list is endless. And, every day I continue to have “aha” moments when dealing with new challenges and opportunities.